FAITH IN PRACTICE
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary - May 31
Considering the distance from Nazareth to Ein Karem near Jerusalem, and the harshness of the country that Mary had to pass through, and the rough way, I am amazed that Mary undertook that journey, apart from the fact that she was pregnant. Luke the evangelist (cf. Lk 1:39) does not lose sight of her physical ordeal, but I think that he has more than that in mind.
This was the same way that David took when he had the Ark of the Covenant carried across Judah to Jerusalem (cf. 2 Sam 6:2), and it was also the way that Jesus trod when he "resolutely took the road for Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51). We can discover layers of meaning here. I think that Luke wants us to draw the conclusion: Mary is the new ark carrying Jesus, the new covenant, on his first journey to Jerusalem.
Those three journeys - that of David with the original ark and covenant; that of Mary, the new ark; and that of Jesus the new covenant - all indicate the same way that God in Jesus took towards an old and needy humanity in the person of Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John. John, the new man, leapt for joy over the closeness of the Saviour.
Two mothers, one elderly and the other youthful, the old and the new, meet each other in a hymn of praise to God. The purpose of the meeting for Mary is the natural desire to bring help to someone in need, also to communicate the great saving event that she is aware of, and to recognize the sign of the lively child given to Elizabeth by the Lord.
Elizabeth realises that Mary is specially blessed because she believed in the promises made to her by God. In a sense, that is all that Mary did, but what a task it was: to believe what she had come to know from God in spite of all the evidence against it.
If we listen closely to Mary's Magnificat, Mary tells us what her faith cost her.
Whatever she felt to be her own was reduced to nothing. Anything that she could claim as her own was taken away. Even so, our faith will annihilate all that is not from God in us, when we take the plunge and entrust our self to God.
Faith casts out every trace of pride in a person, every impulse towards power and self-assertiveness, and every element of self-centredness.
We know that God has his plans for us, but we do not know what those plans are. God gets involved with a human being only after the person consents to God's plans. Then he shows "might in his arm." He begins by destroying anything that stands in his way.
It's possible that we have been praying for a long time, "Father, I commit my whole life to you. Don't spare me, but make me who you want me to be." But then we realise that what we are really saying is, "Make me who I think you want me to be", or "Make me who I want to be, because I'm sure that must be who you want me to be." God is patient with our self-centredness. He leads us to realise that we do not know who he wants us to be, and we begin to submit freely, perhaps not without fear, to being purified of self.
Mary submitted to this radical purification, and showed her absolute faith in the words God spoke to her. The process runs directly opposite to many things that we desire, seek, plan, and work for, even with the best of intentions.
The Magnificat is the prayer of everyone who lives by faith. It calls for an end to my concern for man-made power, importance, and efficiency. It announces the death of me as I want to be, and replacement by a new person that God will create with his own strong arm.
This is what happened to Mary, and the crowning glory of God's strong arm was her Assumption. If each of us allows God's power to work in us, if we allow our faith in God's word to take over our lives, then we will come to resemble Mary, the lowly handmaid raised to the glory of God's presence.
God includes Mary and Jesus, Elizabeth and John, in his great plan to save us. Mary understands and acts. She clings to God's will. Her obedience is carried out with joy and decisiveness. She hurdles physical difficulties. Whoever follows God, and is filled with his spirit, journeys with a joyful heart and with an open mind, even by rough paths. The motherhood of Mary is the mystery of her personal greatness because of her faith in the strength of God's word. Mary's faith confronts our amazement and unbelief.
From the beginning of the saving event, faith stands out as our clinging to the word of God that encourages us and bestows gifts on us, that calls us and does us good, that creates a new heart and gives birth to the new man or the new woman.
Mary in the Visitation is the new woman faithful to the word and to the will of God, her Saviour. The Secular Franciscan Rule 9, and the General Constitutions present Mary as our model of faith in practice:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, is the model of listening to the Word and of faithfulness to vocation; we, like Francis, see all the gospel virtues realized in her. The brothers and sisters should cultivate intense love for the most holy Virgin, imitation, prayer, and filial abandonment. They should manifest their own devotion with expressions of genuine faith, in forms accepted by the Church (GC 16.1).